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Federal Government Issues Fishery Disaster Declaration in Northeast

Low levels of groundfish stocks causing a significant loss of resources for Massachusetts fishing industry

Today, Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank issued fishery disaster determinations in the Northeast. The declarations open the door for tens of millions of dollars in funds to relieve struggling fishermen and their ports. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) stated today that despite fishermen’s adherence to strict catch limits, several key fish stocks in the Northeast groundfish fishery are not rebuilding and further cuts are expected in 2013.

In a letter to Governor Deval Patrick sent on September 13th, Blank stated, “After reviewing the information available on the potential catch limits for the 2013 fishing year, I am deeply concerned about the potential impacts to Northeast fishermen and fishing communities. The Department of Commerce and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will continue to engage with the New England Fishery Management Council and the fishing industry in advance of the 2013 fishing year to explore all possible options to mitigate these impacts. However, it seems unlikely that all economic impacts can be mitigated solely through fisheries management measures.”

Recent data shows that several key fish stocks are not rebuilding regardless of the fact that fishermen have adhered to catch limits over the past few years. The precise cause of the declines is unclear, however low levels of these stocks are causing a significant loss of access to fishery resources with anticipated revenue declines that will greatly affect the commercial fishery, said Blank.

Under the IFA and MSA, Blank’s determination provides a basis for Congress to appropriate disaster relief funding and for NOAA to use these funds to provide assistance to affected communities.

“Should Congress appropriate funds for disaster assistance, the National Marine Fisheries Service will work with your state to develop an effective program for an economically robust and sustainable fishery,” wrote Blank.

The Huffington Post reported that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, “Committed to include $100 million for fishermen and fishing communities in emergency assistance legislation that will be debated during the lame-duck session after the election.” That money includes direct aid to fishermen, money to cover required costs, including independent observers who monitor their catch and funds to improve fishery science and stock assessments, which many fishermen feel to be inaccurate.

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